Life
Teacher kept a single empty chair in his classroom for 50 years to impart a meaningful lesson
It never takes long for his students to understand what the chair is there for. πŸ’˜
Jessica Adler
02.08.23

When Dan Gill was 9 years old, he was just an innocent kid living his life in the 1950s.

Then, an experience changed him.

YouTube - CBS New York
Source:
YouTube - CBS New York

It was an experience that taught him the most important lesson about marginalization and it inspired him to grow up to be the man he is today.

It started with a birthday party.

At the time, he lived in a New York apartment building and, one day, along with his best friend, Archie, who happened to be black, they went to a party.

Unsplash - Kostiantyn Li
Source:
Unsplash - Kostiantyn Li

Dan and Archie, happy and with their gifts in hand, arrived at the child’s door.

When the mother opened the door, they were devastated by her reaction.

She wanted one, not the other.

The woman told the boys that Dan, who was white, could enter the house, but Archie couldn’t because there were no more chairs available.

YouTube - CBS New York
Source:
YouTube - CBS New York

At that point, Dan’s innocent mind couldn’t understand that his best friend was denied entrance because of the color of his skin.

So, he offered to sit on the floor or bring more chairs.

The woman, who simply couldn’t let a black boy enter her house, simply repeated that there were no more chairs.

Both boys left crying.

YouTube - CBS New York
Source:
YouTube - CBS New York

And, even though at the time Gill could not realize how important that experience would be for his life and how it would affect his character, he already felt different.

Dan Gill went on to study to become a teacher, which he has been for more than 50 years now.

The lesson has stuck with him.

YouTube - CBS New York
Source:
YouTube - CBS New York

Teaching in Glenfield Middle School, Montclair, over the last decades, he has always tried to teach his students about integration and acceptance and how crucial those are for our society.

β€œEach year I teach lessons around Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday about the Civil Rights movement,” Gill told TODAY Parents. β€œI wanted to connect the students in a personal way to what that meant.”

That’s where the chair comes in.

YouTube - CBS New York
Source:
YouTube - CBS New York

This is why he tells his students about his and Archie’s sad experience from when he was a kid himself.

He knows kids like stories and remember them more easily.

Besides that, he always keeps an empty seat in the middle of the classroom in order for everyone who enters to feel welcomed.

“No more chairs” is not an excuse.

β€œKids work well with symbols,” Gill said β€œIt’s a reminder that they can do better β€” better academically, socially, and emotionally β€” but also to make people feel welcome and make this a better place to live.”

YouTube - CBS New York
Source:
YouTube - CBS New York

Gill, who is planning to retire after the 2022-2023 school year, lost track of his best friend from decades ago.

Sadly, Archie passed last year.

However, he has contacted Archie’s family to share his idea of writing a book dedicated to Archie and to the negative experience of “no more chairs” they had together.

What he hopes is that more teachers in the future adopt the “empty chair” in their classrooms in order to spread the message.

YouTube - CBS New York
Source:
YouTube - CBS New York

Hear Gill recall his and Archie’s “life lesson” and see how he applies it today in the video below!

Please SHARE this with your friends and family.

By Jessica Adler
[email protected]
Jessica Adler is a contributor at SBLY Media.
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